Everyone loves the word Portal. In fact, just thinking of the word invokes hoverboard-levels of excitement for wanting a gravity gun. If only enterprise portals could be as interesting. Sometimes referred to as a “one stop shop”, enterprise portals carry stigmas of cumbersome, over-budget and under-utilized projects. As an iPlanet/Vignette consultant (in a former life), I cannot disagree with the perception, but I feel these stigmas are in large part due to the “idea” of Portals outpacing supporting technologies.
HISTORY OF PORTALS
When portals were first introduced, the lack of standards and tools were abysmal at best. This was great for “portal developer” job security, but when it came to an industry … we were in bad shape. The first Java portlet spec was finalized in late 2003(JSR 168), and it primarily focused on interoperability and architecture of portlets. I mention this only to provide comparative context: the industry at large was more focused on standing up portal technology … than interested in people actually using it. It wasn’t until 2008 that we saw JSR 286 (discussing cross-portlet interaction models), which in my opinion was the earliest measurable acknowledgement that portals needed a better user experience to take flight. All that withstanding, portals are still here and still around. Why? It’s simple.
The value of centralized information management and dispersal is universally solid. It makes sense, and that common sense can outweigh practically anything, including ailing technology and user experience.
SOCIAL INTRANET - THE MODERN PORTAL
Nearly a decade later, social intranets and compelling user experiences are on the rise, but some organizations struggle with where they fit. If you look at the business proposition for social intranets, you see a lot in common with portals (and much more), such as:
- centralized location of information (The One Stop Shop principal)
- personalized web experiences (Dashboards, Activity Streams)
- collaboration between individuals and teams (Wikis, Blogs, Discussions, Status, Ideas, Calendars …)
- integration with disparate systems (Gadgets, Widgets, APIs, Cloud Services, … )
So when I hear someone say that they have a portal, but don’t think a social intranet is right for their company, it baffles me.
Why would you continue to invest money in something that is dying? Why is it so much more unclear to see that a better portal solutions exists in the form of a social intranet? (Note: A real social intranet built on collaboration, mobility and user experience, not some CRUD interfaces crammed into a portal framework). After-all, unless you’ve overly invested in your portal (and most people don’t), chances are your employees use the portal out of daily conditioning more so than actual desire. Imagine the amount of employee interaction and conversation that would take place if people actually liked using a collaborative social intranet. On the flip-side, imagine how much information you could learn about your employees (implicit and explicit) to make smarter internal decisions that resonate best with those doing the actual work. This type of top-down/bottom-up alignment has been sought after for decades to improve company efficiency, and now the technology and generational make-up is there to make it a reality!
GETTING STARTED WITH OR WITHOUT AN EXISTING PORTAL
If you happen to be in a position where you have a portal, and are looking for something better, you should really consider a social intranet. (Same story holds true for those without a portal) It doesn’t have to be a lights on/off scenario. Both portals and social intranets should have aspects that mirror your companies top-down structure, and for the two to co-exist during a transition, simply have your portal bring in conversations/content from matching areas in the social intranet. (for example, show recent/featured HR conversations, blog posts or announcements in the HR Portal Dashboard) This provides a clean way to bring the new social intranet into the light, and as adoption increases, the social intranet takes hold as the new de-facto “portal”.
Who knows? In 10 years social intranets may be replaced with something even more cool, but the difference will be that social intranets will enable people to rally opinions around that change and facilitate it when the time is right!
WHAT DO YOU THINK
To change things up in 2014, I’ve decided to take to Twitter and ask people to share their thoughts on these articles. If you have thoughts on a topic, or would like to hear me voice my opinion on another topic, simply tweet to @ryanrutan with your comments, and I’ll work it into the topic list.
Next up, I’ll return to my series on making the world a better place … where I’ll dig a bit deeper into social intranets and how to cultivate win/win scenarios for your employees and company!